We’ve been following the feud between the White House and Fox News. What supposedly began as an attempt by the White House to hold the press accountable by providing fact-checking on the White House blog has narrowed into a much more targeted fight between the administration and the cable news channel.
Through communications director Anita Dunn, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser David Axelroad, the White House has made clear that they don’t consider Fox News to be a legitimate news outlet. And now it seems that they’re trying to do something about it.
Last Thursday, October 22, 2009, the White House allegedly attempted to keep Fox News out of the White House press pool interviews with the Treasury Department’s Special Master for Compensation (aka “pay czar”) Kenneth Feinberg. Made up of five networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox (which has been part of the pool since 1997), the press pool shares the costs of providing daily presidential coverage on a rotating basis. The White House granted Fox News an interview with Feinberg only after executives from the other member networks said they wouldn’t participate unless all members would receive interviews.
According the the Associated Press, when the story first broke the White House claimed that Fox News had not requested an interview, which was why the cable channel wasn’t included. But after hearing from the other networks’ bureau chiefs who stood by Fox, the White House caved.
On Friday, Christina Bellatoni at Talking Points Memo explained the situation more clearly, writing that because many networks were requesting on-air comment from Feinberg, “…they opted for a round robin where the networks use one pool camera. Treasury called the White House pool crew and gave them the list of networks who’d asked for the interview.
“The network pool crew noticed Fox wasn’t on the list, was told that they hadn’t asked and the crew said they needed to be included. Treasury called the White House and asked top Obama adviser Anita Dunn. Dunn said yes and Fox’s Major Garrett was among the correspondents to interview Feinberg last night.”
This makes the situation seem more innocuous. But at the same time, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “This White House has demonstrated our willingness to exclude Fox News from newsmaking interviews, but yesterday we did not,” reminding everyone that the war is still on.
Mediaite had an exclusive response from a Treasury Department spokesperson who said, “There was no plot to exclude Fox News, and they had the same interview that their competitors did. Much ado about absolutely nothing.” But Friday evening, CBS Chief White House Correspondent, Chip Reid, appeared on the CBS Evening News and said, “All the networks said that’s it, you’ve crossed the line,” which seemed to verify Fox’s claim that they had been intentionally blocked.
New information emerged on Saturday, when Fox News Senior Vice President Michael Clemente told the Huffington Post, “Of course we requested an interview,” casting further doubt on the Treasury Department and White House’s initial explanation.
Furthermore, according to the Clemente’s statement to the Huffington Post, “CBS News Washington Bureau Chief and current pool chairman Chris Isham…received a call from the Treasury Department Thursday saying that Feinberg would be available to speak to all of the networks in the pool except for Fox News, and that Bloomberg would be included instead.” Clemente told the Huffington Post that “when Isham presented that scenario on a conference call with the other pool members — including Fox News — ‘they unanimously said, instantly, no, that’s not gonna fly. Either Fox is in or none of us is doing it.'”
On Thursday’s episode of the Fox News show, “Special Report with Bret Baier,” (transcript here) a panel discussed the situation. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard, condemned the attempt to keep Fox News out of the pool coverage, calling it “breathtaking in its pettiness.” Mara Liasson of National Public Radio spoke to the larger conflict between the White House and Fox News, saying that she believed it to be beneficial for both sides. In her opinion, the White House was sending a message to their base that they will “fight back against our biggest enemy in the media.” And the benefit for Fox News has been a sigificant ratings bump. According to the Los Angeles Times, the cable channel has seen an 8% viewership increase in the two weeks since the White House began targeting Fox News.
But Liasson also made another important point regarding the question of free speech. Panel member and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer said he saw the situation as “a confrontation between an overreaching executive and a free press, and the executive backed down.” Liasson responded, saying “Look, I think that access is not the same thing as free speech. I mean…the White House is not duty bound by the First Amendment to give everybody the same interview…But as long as they’re using the pool system, which they probably now think is a mistake, the pool acted as it’s supposed to, which is the guardian for everybody’s interest collectively.”
Further coverage of the battle between the White House and Fox News can be found at the New York Times,